Located in the modern city of Luxor, close to the east bank of the River Nile, Luxor Temple is actually a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex. In fact, Luxor is the name given to the southern half of the ruins of the ancient city of Thebes. This part was constructed around 1400 BC and grew up around a beautiful temple dedicated to Amon, king of the gods, his consort Mut, and their son Khons. In Luxor there are several great temples on the east and west banks, namely the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri, the temple of Seti I in Gurnah, the temples of Ramesses II and Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. Apart from that, the two primary cult temples on the east bank are called the Karnak and Luxor. An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes connects Luxor temple to the great temple of Amon at Karnak. However, among all those temples, Luxor has characteristics of its own. It is not dedicated to a cult god or an idolized version of a dead king. Instead, it is dedicated as the place of celebration of special occasions of the kingship, like the crowning.
Luxor temple was built with Nubian Sandstone, collected from the Gebel el-Silsila region, located in South-Western Egypt. Though Amenhotep III (1392-52 BC) commissioned the construction of the temple, it was later completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC), Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and Ramesses II (1323-1295 BC). Apart from adding an additional outer court, majestically decorated with his own colossal statues placed between the pillars of a double colonnade, Ramesses II also constructed a pylon, he built colossal statues of the Pharaoh and a pair of obelisks. One of the obelisks still stands, while the other was removed in 1831, reinstalled at the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris and is known as Cleopatra's Needle.
The original part of the temple of Luxor consisted of a large court surrounded by a double row of graceful columns and a complex of halls and chambers beyond. One of the halls housed a granite shrine of Alexander the Great. An entrance flanked by the towers of a pylon was planned for the north end, but that design was subsequently altered and was magnificently replaced by a majestic colonnade of 14 pillars of 52 feet height. The chapels at the rear of the temple were built by Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty.
Amun, his consort Mut and their son Khonsu, the three most popular Egyptian gods in the area of Thebes, were known as the Theban Triad of the cult of the Royal Ka to whom the Luxor Temple was dedicated. The temple was built during the New Kingdom and it is considered that it had great significance in the Opet festival. The Opet was a festival of journey. During the festival, the cult statue of Amun was paraded down the Nile from the nearby Karnak temple. There it would stay for a while with his consort Mut, in a celebration of fertility. Six resting places, known as barque shrines, for the statue of the god while on the journey, were set up on the avenue between the two temples of Karnak and Luxor. The unswerving avenue between the two temples is now lined with human-headed sphinxes, which in all probability replaced the earlier sphinxes which may have had different heads.
However, studies by the Epigraphic Survey team presented a completely different view about the temple. According to them, Luxor is the temple dedicated to the divine Egyptian ruler or, more precisely, to the cult of the Royal Ka, the immortal creative spirit of the divine kingship. In support of their theory, they pointed out to the presence of the colossal figures of the deified Ramesses II before the Pylon and at the entrance to the Colonnade, which are clearly Ka-statues, the cult statues of the king as the embodiment of the royal Ka.
Since its inception the Luxor temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship. During the Christian era, the hypostyle hall, the roofed hall under the pillars, was converted into a Christian church. The remains of another Coptic church can be seen to the west. Subsequently, a mosque was built over the foundations of the church during the Fāṭimid period (909–1171). The mosque was dedicated to a local saint, Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj, who is said to have introduced Islam in Luxor.
(Pictures Courtesy Indrajit De Sarkar)
Since the medieval period the Muslim population of Luxor had started to settle around the adjoining area of the temple. As a result, accumulated rubble of centuries finally took the form of an artificial hill of about fifty feet high. In fact, three quarters of the temple, containing the courts and colonnades, was hidden under the mound. After getting necessary permission from the concerned authorities, French Egyptologist Professor Gaston Maspero had started to excavate the site after 1984 and carried out the job sporadically until 1960. Apart from the accumulated sand and heaps of rubbish, there were numbers of barracks, stores, houses, huts, pigeon towers, which needed to be removed in order to excavate the site. Excavation and preservation efforts are still on. In 1988, numerous 18th-dynasty statues were unearthed at the court of Amenhotep III and in 1995 work was initiated to preserve the columns.
In 1979, Luxor, along with the Karnak temple, the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings were enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, Luxor has become a favourite spot for international tourists. The modern city of Luxor is well equipped to welcome the visitors with an airport, a railway station on the Cairo-Aswān railroad and also ferry service to the western bank.